SharePoint's Role in 2008 Beijing Olympics

As you know by now, the Opening Ceremonies of the XXIX Summer Olympics have come and gone. The mind-blowing artistry—technical and human—was breathtaking to behold. Not only was the event a huge success for the 15,000+ performers and the 160,000+ people involved with the ceremonies, they were also a huge coup for NBC, which broke a ratings record that has been in place since 1948. And millions of people have begun watching the 2,200 hours of coverage that is streaming from NBCOlympics.com.  

 

One thing you may not know is that the Opening Ceremonies were also the victim of a Windows "blue screen of death (BSOD)." Very few people (even in the stadium) saw it, as it was just before the torch was lit, so focus was drawn away. The best photo I've seen of the BSOD is at http://ct.email.officesharepointpro.com/rd/cts?d=33-11985-982-443-3598-1243637-0-0-0-1-2-196. At first, I thought this was a Photoshop job (not that a BSOD wouldn't happen, just that if it did I'd have heard about it), but my friends and I reviewed the video footage, and sure enough! It does seem, however, that there's probably some serious human error involved too, since there should not have been any projection in that area of the stadium at that moment. But it's funny! You saw how high-tech these games, and the architecture is here in Beijing. There have been more than a few occasions where I've seen skyscraper-sized screens showing the user browsing for the PowerPoint presentation or photo stream to display.

SharePoint is also playing a role for the press here in Beijing. The system that provides information about athletes, venues, sports, etc. is called "Info," and SharePoint was chosen to power the search functionality for the system. The case study is posted at http://ct.email.officesharepointpro.com/rd/cts?d=33-11985-982-443-3598-1243638-0-0-0-1-2-196. The Search team should be proud of what they've accomplished in the area of enterprise search.

Windows on windows  

Sadly, as you also probably know, a random stabbing took the life of an American tourist (father-in-law of the US volleyball coach) and seriously injured his wife and their guide. But the team is playing on, right now as I type this in fact, and the rest of Team USA has been turning in stellar performances. Even better, athletes from all over the world are doing their best, and beating their bests, after working so hard to get here.

Why I Love WebDAV and Robocopy...
Last week, during the first day of competitions (believe it or not, there are a few events before the Opening Ceremonies), I got a last-minute request to provide "scan-to-SharePoint" functionality. There are some third-party utilities that manage this type of thing, including metadata population and optical character recognition (OCR), but we just needed a way to scan from our multifunction devices here in Beijing and have the resulting PDF available on two SharePoint sites—one in Beijing and one in New York. No metadata or OCR required. We have a multifunction printer (MFP) that can send to a network folder, but it doesn't have the ability to scan to SharePoint or to a WebDAV folder.

When requirements are simple, I'm a big fan of "do-it-yourself" (DIY) solutions because they're generally free, fast to implement, and because I know all the components of the solution, they're easy to support and troubleshoot. So here's how we did it.

  1. Shared folder. I created a shared folder on a server and a user account for the scanner with Modify permission to the folder. Another user account for the replication has Read permission. Within the shared folder, I created subfolders for each category of PDF that would be scanned.
  2. Printer configuration. I configured the "Send to Network Folder" function of the MFP with folders that point to each of the category subfolders on the server. So when someone walks up to the MFP and clicks "Send to Folder," a list of categories (folders) appears. They scan the document, and the MFP sends it to the correct subfolder on the file server.
  3. SharePoint configuration. On each of the SharePoint sites (which are in separate farms), I created a document library, giving the replication user account permissions to add and remove items.
  4. Scheduled Task configuration. The "magic" piece of this solution is a simple Robocopy job that mirrors the contents of the shared folder to each of the SharePoint libraries, using the Universal Naming Convention (UNC) of the library (thus, through WebDAV). The job runs every minute, and dumps a log, so if anything seems to be going wrong it's been easy to identify the source of the problem.

We're actually doing the "reverse" type of replication as well—merging files from two different shared folders into one SharePoint site. The application that creates these files is not SharePoint aware, and can't be used across the slow WAN link. Therefore the application can save its files to shared folders in each part of the network, and the Robocopy task can merge them into a single document library for the read-only access that is required by a large number of users.

So Robocopy + WebDAV + Scheduled Tasks has proven to be an effective DIY solution for replicating from non-SharePoint applications and devices into SharePoint libraries. It's nowhere near as high-tech as the 270-meter long LCD screen used in the Birds' Nest for Opening Ceremonies--but fast, effective, and something we could implement on short schedule without actually changing our SharePoint infrastructure or servers!

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